Five Steps to Take Right Now to Protect Your New Device

Congratulations on getting a new device. Here’s how to protect it.

Tom Blackstone Crypto Expert Tom Blackstone, Cryptocurrency Expert

There’s nothing like getting a shiny new phone, laptop, or tablet. We know: You can’t wait to get it out of the box and see what it can do. You don’t want to bother adjusting a lot of security settings or installing a VPN or antivirus software. You just want to get to it.

The fact is, though, until you secure your device, you are vulnerable. You don’t get a grace period with hackers and identity thieves. They’ll steal your personal identifiable information (PII) from a new phone as happily as from an old one.

The good news is that safeguarding your device doesn’t have to be a hassle. We have five simple tips for locking down your new device quickly and easily to shore up your online safety.

1. Install All Updates Immediately

Unless you bought your device the day it came out on the market, the manufacturer has probably already issued a few updates and patches for it. These are designed to improve the device’s function and, importantly, to plug any security holes the device may have. They’re free and you’re entitled to them, so why wouldn’t you get them?

Want to know who buys devices the day they come out? Hackers. They’re looking for those security holes so they can exploit them before the company has time to fix them. Even after the holes are plugged, they can still exploit them on any device that hasn’t yet been updated. That means your device, if you’re playing games on it and ignoring updates.

Bottom line: Right out of the box — as soon as you get your hands on it — install all available updates for your new device. Then make sure you keep up with all future updates and install them as soon as they become available.

2. Lock It Down

We spend a lot of time and energy preaching about online security. Keep reading this list, and you’ll find tips about installing VPNs and antivirus software. The easiest way for an identity thief to get their hands on your data, though, can’t be stopped with software or an app. If you lose your device or a thief manages to steal it, they may have access to your most sensitive personal information (banking app, anyone?).

That is, unless you lock your device. There are lots of ways to do that. Locks may involve a PIN or a password. iPhones have facial recognition. Whatever method you choose, locking your phone ensures that you’re the only one who can access what’s on it.

Since you’re creating passwords anyway, maybe take this opportunity to update your passwords on other devices and the apps and sites you visit. Below are a few suggestions for doing that.

  • Make sure you create strong passwords that include letters, numbers, and special characters. Have any doubts about your passwords? Take 30 seconds and run them through our free password checker.
  • Use multifactor authentication (MFA) if it’s offered. MFA means you have to present two types of credentials to log in. It protects your device or site access even if someone gets hold of your password.
  • Don’t reuse passwords. If all your devices and accounts use the same password, a hacker can gain access to all of them if they figure out that password. Yes, it can be hard to keep up with several or several dozen passwords. A good password manager can keep them all organized in one place for you.

3. Get to Know Your Device

Anxious to play with your new device? You’ll like this tip. Once you’ve installed updates and locked everything down with a PIN or password, take some time to get to know your device. What do we mean?

  • Know your security settings and how to change them. Does your phone have a “find” setting that helps you locate it when it’s lost? Turn it on. Use your permissions manager to decide which apps can and can’t access sensitive information on your device. Fill out your emergency information if your device has a place for it.
  • Find all the important privacy and security settings and use them.
  • Figure out how your device records. Set permissions carefully, and know how to tell if your device is recording audio or video. You don’t want to transmit your life to strangers.
  • Find out how to control Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. Your device is vulnerable to attack if it’s set up to connect to whatever public Wi-fi may be available.
  • Check upload and download settings. Set your device so it must have your express permission before it transmits any data.

4. Install a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) adds a layer of protection to your device when you’re online. First, it routes your connection through an encrypted tunnel so no one can see what you’re up to. The best VPNs also assign you an anonymous IP address, so even if someone can see what you’re doing, they won’t know who you are.

A VPN is essential when you’re out in public. When you log on to public Wi-Fi, your online activity is available to anyone who bothers to look, including hackers and identity thieves. A VPN ensures your activity is completely encrypted. Many users employ a VPN at home, too, so the government can’t track your online movements even if it subpoenas your records.

5. Install Antivirus Software

VPNs are great for protecting you from online attacks, but they can’t prevent you from making a mistake yourself. Phishing schemes are among the most popular approaches hackers use to get your PII, and, unfortunately, VPNs can’t stop you from falling prey to them. Click on the wrong link in an email, and — presto! — you’ve got malware.

If you have antivirus software on your device, it will scan all your downloads to verify they are legitimate. The best antivirus software can tell you if adware or ransomware slips through, and it can even help you eliminate it.

New or Old: General Safety Tips

Whether your device is new or old, you should be careful with it. Digital devices connect us with the world, providing access to amazing resources. They can also let the world connect to us, though, which opens us up to countless dangers.

Even when your new device isn’t quite so new, make sure you use common sense when you’re online. Consider the following digital security precautions:

  • Back up your data. You never know when you may lose your phone or your laptop may fail. If you’ve backed everything up, you never have to worry about losing important files and documents.
  • Don’t give out passwords. You should never share your passwords with anyone. Once someone has your passwords, they can access your devices even if you’ve locked them.
  • Mind where you go online. Not all sites are created equal. “Http” sites, for instance, don’t have the same security as “https” sites. That little “s” can make a huge difference in your safety. If you’re not using a VPN, you could also be vulnerable to “man in the middle” attacks, in which hackers insert a fake website on top of an actual website. You don’t realize it’s not real until you click a link that infects you with malware. Even legitimate sites can infect you with adware. Know where you are, and be careful about which sites you trust.
  • Mind what you download. Device security is only as good as the person using the device. If you have a habit of downloading pirated torrents, even the best antivirus software may not be able to keep you from getting malware.
  • Mind who you talk to and share with. You don’t have to click a link to give hackers and identity thieves useful information about you. Many of us post this information on social media for anyone to see, or we share it with total strangers because their avatars seem trustworthy. Any piece of information about you can potentially have value. You think you’re just telling your friends about the fabulous adventures you’re having on vacation, but you’re also letting home invaders know you’re out of town.
  • Never “jailbreak” or “root” your phone. We don’t care if all the cool kids are doing it. When you jailbreak a device, you can’t be certain the safety protections will continue to operate as they should. That awesome animation from Cylinder Reborn just isn’t worth the risk.
  • Purchase ID theft protection. Invest in one of the best ID theft protection services. These services keep track of your identity online. They can alert you if someone’s using your information without permission, and they can help you clean up the damage if you ever become a victim.

Wrapping Up

When is online safety important? Always. When should you worry about identity theft? Always. When is your new device vulnerable to being lost or stolen? Always. And that includes when your device is just out of the box. As soon as you flip on the power, your device is traceable, hackable, and destructible.

Safety always has to be your No. 1 priority. Don’t put it off just because you want to see how amazing the pixels on your new phone’s camera make you look. Take the time now to:

  • Install all available updates
  • Lock down your device
  • Get familiar with the security settings and safety features
  • Install a VPN
  • Install antivirus software

It’s worth the time. We promise.